Should we be teaching financial literacy?

I usually write blog posts on topics that I feel somewhat knowledgeable about or experienced in. This is the opposite of that. On this occasion, I’m much closer to ‘clueless’ on the scale of expertise, and that’s what prompted this post. Through no fault of my own, I consider myself financially illiterate. I don’t really understand taxes, investments, credit, pensions, etc. You might also feel this way, and many of our students will grow up to feel this way too.

Consider the following definition of financial education and reflect on your own experience:

“Financial education can be defined as the process by which financial consumers/investors improve their understanding of financial products, concepts and risks and, through information, instruction and/or objective advice, develop the skills and confidence to become more aware of financial risks and opportunities, to make informed choices, to know where to go for help, and to take other effective actions to improve their financial well-being.”

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

I don’t recall any education like this from my school days.

Furthermore, my Instagram poll shows that nobody else does either. 100% of respondents do not feel that they received adequate financial education from their school days (the respondents are mostly young teachers from the UK and US). It’s not exactly academic research but, still, 100% is alarming! Experts also find that financial literacy is generally low around the world.

In an article for CNBC, Michelle Fox states that the lack of financial education is “devastating”, resulting in daily struggles, debts and paycheck-to-paycheck living. Of course, there are many financially illiterate people who have good jobs and therefore don’t struggle (like me). But we also need to understand what to do with our money and make a plan for retirement (money doesn’t go very far after you stop working).

This blog post doesn’t really offer any solutions (certainly not educated ones), but I hope that it will start a conversation. Should we be explicitly teaching financial literacy? If so, how? How much? What are the consequences of not doing so?

Despite my lack of understanding, I feel fortunate because I have been seeing an excellent (and patient!) financial advisor in recent months. As a result, I have finalised my will, joined an investment programme with monthly contributions and purchased a property in Manchester, UK (and rented it out). With my future in mind, my money is now going further.

I’m in a much stronger position now, but only because I sought professional advice. These ongoing conversations tend to highlight my ignorance. I still don’t really know what I don’t know, and I’m grateful to be in such capable hands. Whatever your financial position, I strongly recommend seeking professional advice, especially if you feel as uneducated as I do.

As a teacher, this has made me wonder. How have I got to the age of 33 without ever learning any of this?

I don’t blame my teachers or parents. I’m in no position to teach anyone either. Perhaps that’s the problem. Are we stuck in a cycle where only the wealthy are capable of teaching their children about finance? Could financial education help to close the wealth gap?

Experts agree that financial literacy should be taught from an early age. According to Financial Capability, children’s attitudes towards money are formed by the age of seven. They argue that even high school lessons (which I never got) are insufficient. What might financial education look like in the early years and how might we continually build on it?

One problem, as always, is time. But can we honestly say that everything else we teach is more important or relevant than finance? Consider the meme below. It’s just a joke and isn’t intended to be taken seriously, but there’s a valid point in there!

“Why do I need to learn this?” is a question asked by students around the world daily, and I’ve always felt that it’s a fair question that deserves a good answer (I used to ask it too!). I don’t know about you, but I’d feel more confident answering it with regard to finance than many other topics. I’m not saying that they’re not important, but it’s easier to justify the need for financial education.

Besides, would finance lessons need to be an addition to our plates? Would it need to replace something else? It seems to me that it could fit seamlessly into mathematics and provide context for topics that we already teach. What do you think?

Another issue, as I already alluded to, is subject knowledge. How can we teach students to understand finance if we don’t understand it ourselves?

As you might have guessed, I’m posing lots of questions in this blog post because I don’t know the answers! Please share your thoughts below or on social media and let’s continue the discussion. What more should we be doing as teachers and what’s stopping us?

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  1. Adam,
    Hi, there! I’m an education student at the University of Michigan, and once I graduate, I’ll be certified to teach secondary social studies. I really appreciated reading your article, and I think this is such an important topic to think about when teaching our students. As someone who really isn’t financially literate, either, I’m feeling those same concerns that you’ve expressed (and now I think I really do need a financial advisor, too!). As you mentioned, I also think students are sure to feel the same way — and, to some degree, I think schools should have a bit more responsibility in teaching financial literacy. I’m about to embark on my student teaching journey in about a month, and I’ll be teaching high school economics — I’m thinking a good way to dip my toes into both student teaching AND financial literacy is to incorporate some lessons regarding financial literacy into my teaching, even if it’s small anecdotes are larger unit questions that surround financial literacy. It’ll be interesting to weave this into the curriculum somehow, but I believe there’s a way — and I think the economics classroom is a good place to start.
    Thanks so much again for sharing!

    1. Hi Alayna!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas. It’s such an exciting time for you! I agree that we can bring mini financial lessons into our practice. Good luck with your teacher training!



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